A social networking site for the Philly creative community.
For the fifth installment of our spotlight on local websites, I decided to talk with Shannon Ullman about her new travel website, Travel-Mosaic.com. I will admit that I have only really started to travel in the last two years. My childhood was pretty much devoid of travel, and, well, let me put it this way: Between the ages of zero and 25, I had only been to the Jersey shore once. Throw in a couple of trips to NYC, and that pretty much summed up my life outside of Philly. Last year, I went on a two week road trip up to Canada and I flew for the first time this past May. So, my traveling experience is growing, but it's nothing compared to Shannon's. Travel-Mosaic is a great site to read about Shannon's travels, advice and it's just a great place to catch that travel bug.
Q: When did you start Travel-Mosaic?
A: I started Travel-mosaic.com in the beginning of September.
Q: Why did you start it? You obviously love traveling, but why share your stories with the world?
A: I started it because it’s a site that I would have wanted to find on the internet. Whenever I was planning a new trip, or just looking for some general entertainment, I seemed to find sites that were a little too specific. I wanted to create a place that was a compilation of things that travelers would want to look at. Different tidbits of information, useful travel resources and overall inspiration for travel.
Q: What can people expect to learn about traveling and you on the site?
A: I think that people can expect to learn how to make traveling more feasible for them. I have been trying to include information and stories about how to make travel more affordable, which I think is hugely important because money can be a hurtle. I also think that people might be exposed to new ideas about traveling that they may have never heard of before such as Couchsurfing or Air B&B. I have not incorporated too much about myself on the site, but people can read my blog section and learn more about my personal experiences.
Q: Did you and your family travel a lot when you were a child? Do you remember the first trip you ever took?
A: My family actually never traveled when I was younger. We went to the Jersey shore every summer until I was about 11 and we took one trip to Disney World together because my younger brother had cancer and going there was his make-a-wish. I really caught the travel bug when I took a road trip to Tennessee with some friends to go to Bonnaroo. The freedom of getting in the car and just driving to a new place really got to me. Just the subtle differences of new highway signs, different chains of stores and people with accents made me wonder how different other places could be. That trip made me want to see and experience new things, see what else was out there. It made me feel like I had been living in a shoebox my whole life and finally realized I could lift the lid.
Q: Do you like having Philadelphia as a home base to come back to?
A: I do like having Philadelphia to come back to! I feel like everyone has that one city or place that they can really identify with and call home, even if they have lived in many places. The tourist attractions, the restaurants and hangouts, even the street names, they just feel like home. The memories that I have in Philadelphia with friends and family are really what makes it feel like home to me and I am always happy to come back to it after an adventure.
Q: There’s a story on Travel-Mosaic that mentions how you ran into a bad snowstorm in Maryland. Have there been other panic-worthy times during your travels? How did you deal with it?
A: Oh man, I have had quite a few panic-worthy stories! One time in Munich my boyfriend thought he lost me for 2 hours. He ran through the streets crying, trying to find me and ended up calling the police to search for me, even though I had mistakenly fallen asleep in the hostel laundry room. Another time in Florence after walking around for hours trying to find accommodation, we were able to escape from a potentially murderous, one star hotel owner, and avoid sleeping in a train station, when we met the owner of a nearby campground during a champagne toast, who gave us a lift to his camp site. We have gotten stranded in Paris and had to spend half a day and night slumming around the airport with our packs trying to find a way to the UK. We mistakenly ran into two bears on the Appalachian Trail, and did everything you aren’t supposed to do, when you run into a bear in the wild. I could go on, but I think I will save some of these for later blog entries. Whenever these sorts of situations come up, I always like to sit down and formulate a plan. I try to use my common sense and figure out the safest way to go about things that will still provide us with our basic needs such as shelter and food. I like to figure out what resources I have at hand and the most effective ways of using them. There is always a way!
Q: What’s the one place you can’t help but to travel back to?
A: I want to see as much of the world as I can, and I don’t have a lot of money to do it. So, I try not to visit one place more than once. However, I have been to London twice and I do have the urge to go back more than anywhere else I have ever visited. I think I just fell in love with the UK in general. It has all of the comforts of home, but is still so different at the same time. I feel so comfortable there but I still feel like there are so many new things to explore.
Q: Is there a particular travel book that has helped you in some way?
A: There is a book I read called, The lost girls. It is written by three women from New York who had just started amazing careers and lives in the city, but left it all to travel around the world for a year. The book really helped inspire me to view travel as a lifestyle and not just a series a trips. I found it so inspirational, because not only did the girls live out their dreams and travel the world for a year, but they also were courageous enough to quit their jobs, figure out ways to make money on the road and they even came back and wrote a fabulous book and created a website all about their journey. It made me realize that I am capable of doing something similar with my life.
Q: A lot of people never travel, because of the money issue. Do you find that traveling is a real hazard on one’s bank account?
A: I think it is all about the way you approach it and how you prioritize with your money. I never really drained my savings by going on a trip. My financial process for traveling starts with creating a trip I would like to go on, finding the cheapest way possible to do it and saving money separately- enough time in advance. I always plan my trips far in advance and figure out a savings plan that usually involves me cutting down on any extra spending for a while. I never just take money out of my bank account and take a trip. I have a separate account I use when I am saving for trips. And it is so important to find alternative methods of travel that may be cheaper and less strain on your wallet. Couchsurfing and hostels as opposed to hotels and resorts will allow you to travel more often and stretch your money further.
Q: You write about how couch surfing is a way to travel on the cheap. You actually attempted it yourself. Can you talk a little about what it is exactly and your overall experience?
A: Ah, Couchsurfing. I talk about this a lot, and I even have a whole blog entry all about my experience with it. Couchsurfing is basically a social networking site for travelers. It is set up similar to Facebook. Everything about the site and all interactions are free. You set up a personal profile about yourself including pictures, descriptions of yourself and things you like as well as places that you have traveled and information about where you live. You can add and request people to be your friends and leave each other references that show up on one another’s pages. And for how it works, here is an example. Say I want to take a trip to Providence, Rhode Island. I would use the Couchsurfing website and search for hosts in Providence. Various profiles of couchsurfers living in Providence would come up, and I would look through them to try to find a person that I think I would get along with and want to stay with, and then I send them a couch request telling them what days I would like to come, and why I would like to stay with them. They get your request and either accept or deny you. If they accept, usually you would get their phone number and make arrangements and then you would go stay with them. Usually you would get to stay on their couch or in a spare bedroom and have access to use their kitchen and bathroom. Sometimes hosts will even give surfers a key to their house to come and go as they please. Many times the hosts will be able to hang out with their surfers and show them around, or sometimes they are busy, but provide you with tips for what to do in the area. Again, all of this is completely free of charge! It is just travelers trying to help other travelers to see the world, meet new people and understand new cultures. Overall, I have had only great experiences with couchsurfing! It has really helped me interact with people in a new way, and has helped me gain my trust back for strangers. My experiences with couchsurfing have helped assure me that good people still do exist out there.
Q: Are there any current or past travelers that inspire you?
A: I think Bill Bryson is a traveler who really inspires me. He is so funny and witty in his writing that he seems to make the readers feel at ease with traveling. It can be a scary idea sometimes to be so far away from home, but Bryson recounts his travels in a way that makes any mishaps comical and makes you feel that if he can overcome the struggles of travel, that you can too.
Q: Where do you see Travel-Mosaic, and you, going in the future? Any dream locations you want to visit?
A: Travel-mosaic is brand new and not quite finished yet so it is hard to tell! I am hoping to see it incorporating more of a variety of travel destinations and trips and I am also hoping that I can provide more resources and ideas that will actually help inspire people and aid them in planning trips of their own. I see myself in many places in the future. So, hopefully as I add to my own personal experiences, I can incorporate them into my website as well. As of now, my dream destination is probably Thailand! I really want to backpack Southeast Asia altogether, and hopefully within the next two years, I will make it a reality.
Q: Any last thing you want readers to know? Is there any way they can get involved with Travel-Mosaic?
A: I guess that I want readers to know that I really want my website to inspire them. I want them to realize that they are capable of seeing the world, even if it is only one state at a time. The resources are out there and the ideas are out there. People just need to be exposed to them. I would love for people to get involved in my website. As of now I don’t have any sort of forum up for people to share their thoughts and ideas. I think that if my readers started to leave some comments, it would be really valuable. I would love to hear if anything on my site helped you, if you think I should be adding something or focusing on a certain place or resource. If I get more feedback, I would really consider putting up a forum, which could really be helpful for all the readers to get more information and get more involved.